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(Janesville, WI) By Jim Leute, Gazette

NOTE: Provided below are excerpts from the full article that was published by the Gazette.

Community vibrancy and its effect on demographics, economic development and the future tax base are at the heart of a new plan to revitalize downtown Janesville.

The most recent plan—Janesville has had several before it - is big and bold.

Following it through to a consultant's creative conclusion would require millions of dollars from both the public and private sectors.

But supporters say the plan won't be accomplished overnight with just one price tag.

It could take 20 years, they say, and go like tumbling dominoes--each project triggering another.

LIFE SUPPORT

“Quality of life can mean an affordable house, quality schools and great parks,” Beckord said. “We have many of those things, but I would add to that list a real vibrant downtown.

“The life of the community is enhanced when you have a downtown district that has numerous offerings to people with varied tastes.”

Since late last year, the city has been working with a Madison consultant on a new strategy, one that's developed with input from a variety of stakeholders and will go before the city council later this year.

“The council will be asked to embrace the plan, which lines things up for down the road,” said Ryan Garcia, the city's economic development manager.

DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS

The Rock Renaissance Redevelopment & Implementation Strategy targets 240 acres along both banks of the Rock River from the Memorial Drive bridge south to the Jackson Street bridge.

The current plan also has big ideas, but it includes a detailed strategic approach that arranges downtown redevelopment along the river like poised dominoes.

“This plan is very difficult to articulate just by looking at the pictures, but the full plan has all of the how-to information in it,” Garcia said.

The idea is to get a couple of projects done to build momentum for future projects.

KICK STARTERS

At first glance, the plan put together by SAA Design Group might seem overwhelming.

A series of maps and a video flyover show green space, a pedestrian bridge, a kayak course and an array of new commercial development from Court Street north to Traxler Park, part of which would be redesigned as an island.

“It's a framework, an ambitious framework,” Garcia said.

At this point, neither Garcia nor Beckord are giving much thought to the marina, icehouse museum and hotel that the plan includes along the river.

They are just three of the attractions the consultant and Forward Janesville have included in their “Power of Ten” plan that includes 10 significant features.

“There's no magic to 10,” Beckord said. “The idea is that you have enough attractions, a tipping point, where visitors and citizens alike want to come downtown because they want to show it off to visitors or they just want to take advantage of some of the features.”

If the complete plan comes together, supporters say, it will be the result of continuous investments from both the public and private sectors.

There's no way one can work without the other, Beckord said.

An example is developing with three projects Beckord and Garcia said are critical to get redevelopment started:

-- The recently dedicated Marvin W. Roth Community Pavilion in Lower Courthouse Park. The project was the result of generous donations from Roth's family, anonymous donors, a local foundation and financial support and labor from the business community, specifically the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association.

-- The proposed Riverwalk Amphitheater in the green space between the Janesville Performing Arts Center and Hedberg Public Library. Forward Janesville's charitable arm wants to raise $4.8 million privately for an outdoor venue that could hold up to 4,200 people. The entire facility, which would sit on city-owned land, would then be gifted to the city.

-- The Town Square would be the answer when the city removes the parking deck over the river between Milwaukee and Court streets. It would include green space, river access, a pedestrian bridge, a floating dock and other architectural elements.

The city is under the gun to remove the deteriorating deck because the state will not authorize repairs or replacement.

Estimated to cost $4.5 million, removal is targeted for 2016.

Beckord said the combination of the three projects would be an important start to revitalization.

“Over five years, the train starts to leave the station and pick up steam,” he said. “The hope is that when those are done, the community really starts to see what's possible.”

HOW MUCH AND FROM WHOM?

Garcia, Beckord and others say the answer to the first question is almost impossible to answer.

Costs for some projects can be estimated because they are in the works or can be compared to projects in other communities, such as whitewater courses in Wausau or Iowa.

“We've priced the Riverwalk Amphitheater fairly specifically because we're about to raise the money for it,” Beckord said. “As for a downtown hotel and how much that's going to cost, I can't put a number on that.

“It would depend on the company that might want to build and operate a hotel.”

Beckord said he prefers to wait until a specific project is proposed before diving into costs and revenue sources.

A completely revitalized downtown will be the product of many small projects that primarily are paid for by taxpayers and private investors.

“Don't underestimate the potential for state and federal grants,” Beckord said.

“If the private sector is investing, and the local community and its taxpayers are investing, we've been told that our probability of succeeding with applications and attracting outside money is greatly enhanced.”

Garcia said the city likely will begin applying for grants next year to help offset the $4.5 million deck removal project.

Beckord is unaware of any other community that revitalized its downtown without community incentives.

Beloit, he said, is a nearby example.

“The taxpayers of Beloit have made a very substantial investment in downtown improvements there, and look what's happening,” he said.

BENCHMARKS

Beckord said downtown revitalization would be an evolution, a marathon rather than a sprint.

So how will the community know it's on the right track and the current plan isn't just another dust collector?

“From my perspective, the very early indicators are the Roth Pavilion, the Riverwalk Amphitheater and the Town Square area,” he said.

The Roth Pavilion is done.

Fundraising for the amphitheater soon will begin, primarily with pitches to individuals, companies and foundations capable of substantial donations.

Community-wide fundraising will follow.

“We have received very strong support for the concept, but the rubber hits the road when you start asking for the kind of dollars that we're going to need,” Beckord said.

Not factored in is ancillary development that would occur around the more significant projects.

“Things are likely to fall out of this development that we couldn't possibly predict,” Beckord said. “For example, the company that decides to move downtown or the restaurants or shops that open because they want to part of the downtown scene because it's affordable and makes good sense.

“Those are the kinds of things that won't be in that plan, but they'll happen.”

Garcia said the idea is to prime the pump.

“The reality is that we can't do everything in the plan in five years,” he said. “The Town Square is where our focus is right now.

“The Town Square is not a singular purpose and not exclusive to one group or another. It can be whatever someone wants it to be, a place to watch the river, eat lunch, attend an art fair, whatever.”

Garcia said strategic city investments would entice private investments, but market forces ultimately will determine where and when they occur.

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